Taliban fighting 'has wrecked children's education'

More than half a million children in Pakistan are left with little hope of education after clashes between the army and Taliban destroyed hundreds of schools, according to the United Nations.

The offensive in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) led to one of the largest internal displacements in recent years as around 2.3 million people left their homes, many after fighting worsened in April.

Refugees are now returning home, only to find that many of their children’s schools are in ruins.

Luc Chauvin, deputy representative for the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) in Pakistan, said: “The impact of the fighting has been quite dramatic on schools and students in NWFP.”

About 230 schools had been “completely flattened”, he said, and 410 schools damaged with collapsed walls and roofs due to mortar fire, rocket-propelled grenades or bombs.

The Taliban oppose education for women and blew up girls’ schools when the Swat area was under their control for about two years.

Members of the Pakistan-based banned militant organisation attacked other empty schools because soldiers often used them as camps.

More than 4,000 other primary and secondary schools also needed to be revamped as many had been used as shelters to accommodate those fleeing the conflict, Mr Chauvin said.

“Lots of schools need to be cleaned up, repainted and refurnished after so many people have been living there and things have been stolen or furniture burnt as firewood,” he added.

Humanitarian workers assessing how to help war-torn areas like the Swat Valley have said that schools are among the worst-hit infrastructure.

Militants are reportedly still operating, burning schools and attacking students.

Mr Chauvin said a lack of schooling for such a large number of students would be a blow for refugees desperate to return to normal life.

“When children go to school it creates a sense of normalcy and this is what returning populations need. But this is impossible if the schools no longer exist,” Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted him saying.

Although aid workers are calling for investment in poverty alleviation and development projects in NWFP, a place where militant recruitment is rampant, funds are hard to come by.

The UN has received only 3% of funds needed to restore basic amenities like water and electricity systems, and medical services.

Schools are being neglected, Mr Chauvin said, adding: “There seems to be consensus that education is key, but when it comes to action, education is sometimes the forgotten child.”

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